Remember that time Atlanta hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics? They certainly do. They’re one of only three American cities ever to hose the Summer Olympics (an exclusive club they share with Los Angeles and St. Louis), and they will never, ever let anyone forget it.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son tagged along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college. We’ve taken two trips by airplane, but are much happier when we’re the ones behind the wheel — charting our own course, making unplanned stops anytime we want, availing ourselves of slightly better meal options, and keeping or ruining our own schedule as dictated by circumstances or whims. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.
For years we’ve been telling friends in other states that we’d one day do Atlanta’s Dragon Con, one of the largest conventions in America that isn’t in California or New York. We’d been in Atlanta, but we hadn’t really done Atlanta. Hence this year’s vacation, in which we aimed for a double proficiency in Atlanta tourism and over-the-top Dragon Con goodness. Before we went to D*C, there was the road trip to get there, and the good times to be had before the great times at the big show.
For the tourism half of our week, we managed to work out our itinerary into a logical progression over our first three full days in Atlanta:
- Monday: The main sightseeing options within walking distance of our hotel
- Tuesday: All the historical places Anne wanted to see most, and the one museum I wanted to see more than anything else in town
- Wednesday: The most curious Georgia attraction farthest away from the hotel; then whatever minor sights and errands we could fit in
The plan succeeded, far better than either of us expected. In terms of checking off all the highest ranking items on our to-do list, I don’t think we’ve had a vacation that successful since South Dakota in ’09.
DAY TWO: Monday, August 26th.
Breakfast was a combination of our hotel’s free buffet — which was perfectly fine for what it was — and our leftovers from Pittypat’s Porch the night before. That reuse helped offset its cost, to be sure, though the pecan coated catfish fingers weren’t the same the second time around.
Though all the day’s activities wouldn’t be that far away, I thought it might be fun to save a few blocks of walking and try out some local mass transit. We walked a short block from our hotel to a stop for the Atlanta Streetcar, a limited railway that loops through downtown Atlanta for just twelve stops. Opened for business in December 2014, the Streetcar arrived some 65 years after its more primitive namesakes were put to bed not long after World War II. Rides were only a dollar apiece, with Streetcars theoretically coming every 10-15 minutes, per their website. It sounded like a cute, frivolous way to kick off the day. We saw one pull away just as we walked up, but waiting 10-15 minutes for the next one seemed like no big deal.
The next one arrived some 25 minutes later, saving us whatever calories we might’ve burned if we’d instead opted for what at most would’ve been a ten-minute walk, and that’s only if one of us had had leg cramps. It was nearly deserted, so at least we didn’t have to fight for seats.
Our smooth, slow chariot dropped us off across the street from the installation in our lead photo, the five Olympic rings now standing at the southeast entrance to Centennial Olympic Park. Once upon a time it was several blocks of vacant lots and ramshackle buildings long past their expiration date. When Atlanta won the honor of hosting the 1996 Summer Olympics, all those dilapidated spaces were razed and replaced with a much prettier park. Hosting the Olympics was in itself a big deal, but the 1996 Games celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first international Olympic Games held in modern history. Hence the extraordinary efforts to make it count.
The park remains in place to this day, but at 23 years old, a few renovation initiatives have been implemented and more are on the drawing board.
We who didn’t live in Atlanta and who were around back then remember those Olympics not for any great moments in sports, but for a horrid moment of tragedy: the ’96 Atlanta Olympics bombing. A madman set off a device that resulted in the deaths of two people and 111 injured. The perpetrator, who went on the run for years and was responsible for at least three other bombings, was finally apprehended in 2003, caught Dumpster-diving behind a North Carolina grocery store at 4 in the morning. Before he was sentenced to life without parole, he revealed years after the fact his act of evil at the Olympics was intended as an anti-abortion protest. He failed on more levels than I can count.
That tragedy is commemorated here with a “Quilt of Remembrance”, one among several themed “quilt” installations around the park for various purposes.
To be continued!
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